UFC 252: Fairy Tales Don’t Exist
By Alex Conway
If you try to write a good script in MMA, you can bet that the MMA gods will walk over and spill coffee on it within five seconds.
We had a good rough draft heading into UFC 252. Daniel Cormier, the man who has endured the loss of a child, finished second place in so many world class competitions only to keep trying and finally emerge as a UFC champion in two-weight classes, was fighting his last fight.
With a win he would join the likes of other great career ending moments like Michael Jordan’s shot against the Utah Jazz (we’ll pretend the Wizards run never happened), Peyton Manning walking off the field a Super Bowl champion, Georges St-Pierre winning a second title at Madison Square Garden.
Sean O’Malley, the undefeated 25-year old with a penchant for hair dye, was ready to ascend to superstardom. He had just completed a walk-off KO that put him in contention for Knockout of the Year in his last fight, which propelled him into the rankings for the first time.
On Saturday he would dye his hair the colors of the Ecuadorian flag to take on Ecuador’s Marlon Vera, the man whose spot in the rankings he took.
O’Malley was set to add another highlight to his collection during the co-main event of a major UFC PPV before setting his sights on the rest of the division, then UFC gold and eventually becoming the face of the franchise.
But alas…those pesky MMA gods.
You see, Cormier was basically ready to retire before his last fight. It was UFC 241 and Cormier was granting a rematch to the man he took the heavyweight title from, Stipe Miocic. The plan was to erase any doubt that his win over Miocic was a fluke, ride off into the sunset as the heavyweight champion and enjoy the returns of an all-time great career.
He was even winning the fight after three rounds by a wide margin. But then, like something out of a movie, Miocic came out firing in the fourth, landing body shot after body shot, forcing Cormier to drop his hands to defend thudding punches to the gut, which allowed Miocic to bomb on Cormier’s head, get the win and ruin Cormier’s ending.
So the UFC granted Cormier a mulligan. The trilogy fight was on, set at one victory a piece for each man, with Cormier still in a position to capture the gold and leave a champion.
Instead, Cormier was one step behind Miocic at every turn, and lost a unanimous decision to the defending champ. Maybe more importantly, Cormier suffered an eye poke in the middle of the fight that could lead to compromised vision for the rest of his life.
O’Malley looked good early but suffered a gruesome ankle injury after Vera hit him with a leg kick. For the rest of the first round until Vera pummeled him with fight ending ground-and-pound, O’Malley dragged his impotent leg and dashed dreams of undefeated glory to the finish line of his first career defeat on the largest platform he’s had to date.
But, as is often the case, life is all a matter of perspective.
While we mourn the loss of the ending Cormier and O’Malley wanted, we should celebrate Miocic and Vera.
Miocic is a full-time firefighter in Cleveland. That’s right, the UFC heavyweight champion lists MMA as his second job behind fighting on the front lines as a first responder during a pandemic.
This fight likely would have happened earlier in the year if not for Miocic’s duties to his day job and his gym being shut down because of Ohio lockdown orders.
Miocic spent the week talking about how his biggest fear during training camp for UFC 252 wasn’t what would happen if Cormier took his belt, but rather that every night he’d return home to his family and wonder if he’d pass the virus to his wife or child.
Vera has slowly become one of the more respected names in the UFC’s deep bantamweight division, all while dealing with his daughter’s rare neurological condition, Mobius Syndrome, which causes facial paralysis and the inability to move ones eyes from side-to-side.
You see, everyone has a story and just because the final chapter isn’t written the way you thought it would when you first put ink to paper, doesn’t mean there isn’t a life lesson for us all.
Despite losing Saturday, Cormier will always be a winner in life. He has shown time and again what it means to never give up. He’s dealt with tragedy and heartbreak in a truly inspiring fashion. He coaches high school wrestling for free to give back to his community.
There will never be a time where Cormier should ever be considered a loser, regardless of whether his hand gets raised.
Meanwhile, O’Malley is still just 25. He’s got his whole career ahead of him and if he looks to a guy like Cormier for inspiration, he should know that one loss can’t define him if he doesn’t let it.
So fret not MMA fans, the MMA gods can’t take our story from us. Sometimes you just have to squint a little to see it, but I promise you, it’s always there.